In the dining room of interior designer Jean-Louis Deniot’s new Paris apartment hangs a drawing by Konstantin Kakanias. Deniot bought it largely for the inscription in its bottom-left corner: “If you like me, great. If you don’t, keep coming back.” In the past decade, the red-hot young French decorator has developed a roster of clients who not only like him, but also keep coming back.
Until recently, such success left Deniot little time to deal with his own home. His previous base in Paris was a petite, 485-square-foot one-bedroom across the street from the café La Palette in Saint-Germain- des-Prés. Cézanne and Picasso both famously drank there, but for Deniot the area had become, he says, “too noisy and touristy.” What he found when searching for its replacement did not initially fit his criteria: a 1,200-square-foot, second-floor apartment in the 7th arrondissement. “I was actually looking for something bigger and higher up,” he recalls.
The place was also incredibly run-down. Yet Deniot was seduced by its 11 windows and smart layout. A series of four linked rooms runs along the front of the apartment, and there are no corridors— hence, no wasted space. And the location was ideal: in the heart of the Carré Rive Gauche antiques district and just a two-minute walk from his office on rue de Verneuil. “I always thought this was an area where you lived when you were older,” says Deniot, “but, not at all! What I love is that it’s quiet without being dead. You really feel like you’re in a village.”
The designer approached the project very much as he would for a client. The furnishings, for instance, were all bought specifically for the apartment. He also asked himself the most basic of questions in his line of work: “What should an interior of today look like?” The response — and end result — is thoroughly grounded in tradition.
Deniot has a love for neoclassicism and a knack for taking historical references and updating them in a sophisticated way. “Many people think you can create an effect through a form of provocation,” he explains, “by juxtaposing something very classical with something very contemporary. For me, things should be a lot more subtle.” A perfect example is the delicate trompe-l’oeil sky in the living room, which resembles those you find on the ceilings of European palaces. Deniot gave it his own twist by using it on the walls too.
The other wall treatments are equally eye-catching. For the library, a pattern inspired by bark was laser-printed on canvas. In the dining room, the gold-and-pearl horizontal lines on the custom wallpaper were created by applying successive layers of paint, varnish, and marble powder. Meanwhile, the stripes in the guest bath are exactly the same width — 3.43 inches — as those used by the French conceptual artist Daniel Buren. “Buren has been working with stripes for 40 years,” says Deniot. “If anyone knows something about the right proportions, it’s him.”
As for Deniot, he knows how to create elegant interiors that don’t break the bank. For custom pieces, he has a network of affordable craftsmen around the globe. Both the prototype brass bench in the entry and the hammered-silver-clad cabinetry in the kitchen were made in Morocco. The latter he paired to striking effect with four types of marble with varying striations. He also loves rummaging for a bargain. Among his best finds were six Jacques Adnet dining chairs, originally designed for the UNESCO headquarters in Paris. Two weeks after spotting a set in an antiques shop, he came across another at a flea market for a tenth of the price.
But sticking to 20th-century pieces would have been too predictable. Instead, Deniot mixed in the cutting edge and the classical. A photograph by Eric Baudelaire, for instance, is of an industrial wasteland. “I love that it’s so poetic, whereas if you actually went there, I”m sure you’d want to shoot yourself in two seconds,” he jokes. There are also Roman-style urns and marble statuettes, as well as antique portraits. The one in the library was given to Deniot by his grandmother and depicts an 18th- century ancestor. Making one’s mark evidently runs in the family.